In for the thrill
Top fuel bike-hauling Kenworth T909
BRISBANE BUSINESSMAN CHRIS MATHESON is a man obsessed with speed and horsepower. He is the quickest man on two wheels in the southern hemisphere, a five-time pro drag racing champion, and is currently on a quest to become the first Australian motorcycle racer to complete 400 metres in under six seconds! He currently holds both elapsed time and speed record on the national circuit in 6.04 seconds at 389km/h (241.8mph) on board a 1,500hp machine known as ‘Nitro Voodoo’. While a lot more sedate, Chris’s other passion is driving his truck nicknamed ‘The Recalcitrant’.
At the top level of drag racing, a lot of professional teams travel in style with big rigs and transporters. With championship rounds in most states of Australia, it’s important to have plenty of room, not only for the racing vehicle or bike but also spares, fuel, equipment, workshop and a quiet room to chill out, eat and drink.
“As a five times national champion and record holder, I owe a big part of my success to our transporter combination,” Chris says.
He hauls his race setup to all points of Australia with a 2013 Kenworth T909, and says driving the ‘K Whopper’ is an enjoyable experience between races.
“While some race drivers prefer to take the quick route in a commercial plane, I actually love the solitude on the road and the opportunity to see familiar faces and landscapes as we venture to the next round of racing. The Kenworth runs a 550 Cummins and 18-speed Road Ranger with all the fruit,” Chris explains.
Formerly a long-distance hauler, the prime mover spent its early life running between Perth, Adelaide, and Sydney as part of South Australianbased Craig Arthur’s fleet. Chris, however, bought the truck specifically to tow the bike setup around Australia to contest the national championship series.
“We needed something safe, reliable and a package that would do any trip with ease. This truck is ideal, it’s got loads of grunt and fits the bill,” he adds. “I had Big Rigs Australia in Brisbane build a custom race trailer to suit not only my setup, but a trailer that had flexibility to suit other categories of motorsport racing.
“This would ensure the trailer had multiple uses to suit a variety of owners in the future.
“I had looked at buying a number of used race transporters before building this one. Most had fixed mezzanine floors, which really restricts what you can put into the trailer due to the height between floors.
“Another problem with many trailers is loading through the rear door and losing internal clearance due to the ride height of the rear wheels and suspension configuration. Ideally you want two flat floors with a room on top of the gooseneck.”
After considering various options Chris decided on a Freighter drop deck bogie wheelbase and solid gel coated walls with only one joint. The advantage was time, weight, quality of finish and strength.
This design allowed the fitment of an aluminium adjustable mezzanine floor, which is in segments. What this does is allow quick and easy adjustments to suit all heights of race vehicles or freight. This type of design also allows the mezzanine floor to be used as a service hoist pit at race
meetings as you can remove the centre floor insert to give clear access for servicing or repair to the underside of the race vehicle. The perforated mezzanine floor also provides maximum light from the LEDs throughout the trailer.
“The floor is light and has a huge load capacity giving maximum flexibility,” Chris explains.
“The configuration we have can easily carry four large race vehicles with ample room for tools, spares, and workbench areas and still provide easy access.
“At the track we have a double passenger door into the side of the trailer with fold-out steps. These steps are load rated, allowing vehicles to be parked on them when they are stowed for transit. We designed the trailer to suit multiple motorsport uses from Speedway, Supercars, circuit racers and extra-long vehicles such as top fuel dragsters.”
The gooseneck area is separate from the vehicle storage area and provides an area to relax with all the mod cons. It’s air conditioned, has a fridge, sinks and a table so we can go over our computer data after each run. It also allows team members to take a break from the race environment as some events can run over three to four days.
“Keeping in mind the need to be able to accommodate different race vehicles, we fitted a 2.5-tonne high lift electric over hydraulic rear door which has three retractable ramps,” Chris says. “This allows vehicles to be loaded directly into the rear of the transporter either at ground or mezzanine level.”
Another feature of the design that Chris added was to provide a walkway platform on the roof to double as an observation deck. It also gives access to allow installation of a wall-mounted pit awning.
“The race trailer is our one-stop shop while we are on the road away racing. It needs to be a workshop, parts store and a home away from home on wheels.”
Chris says the team at Big Rigs Australia in the Brisbane suburb of Acacia Ridge excelled in the delivery of the trailer.
“It was a custom job with plenty of challenges along the way of which the guys stepped up and delivered.”
He adds that the configuration and final design was the result of years of racing and observing many other transporters along the way.
“I took notes of the good, the bad and the ugly,” Chris says. “That ultimately led to the design of a top-quality strong lightweight race trailer with maximum flexibility to suit different race vehicles.”
Chris is no stranger to the Kenworth brand. His former transporter was a 1977 model K100 Kenworth 20T Pantech with a Cummins 400 big cam and 13-speed Road Ranger.
“The old girl took me to all the points of the map and never let me down,” Chris reflects. “It was a great truck. We won three national championships as a result of that reliable old truck. It was unstoppable.
“I recall with fond memories pulling into roadhouses at Port Augusta, the Nullarbor and across Australia. Young guys would just stare at it wondering ‘what the hell is that!’ They couldn’t believe it was so old.”
The 56-year-old has always had a passion for fast motorcycles. At the age of 13 Chris was racing anything and everything from dirt bikes, short circuit motocross then onto the big road bikes later in his teens.
“I pretty much then stopped riding bikes to forge a career
“The floor is light and has a huge load capacity giving maximum flexibility.”
in business until my late 40s. It was then that I realised if I was going to be No.1 in top fuel motorcycle racing, I needed to hurry up as I was not getting any younger,” Chris smiles.
In 2010 he had a plan and went over to the US and purchased the quickest motorcycle in the world (at the time).
“I wanted to have a bike that already had run into the fivesecond zone and would win championships.
“These bikes are very dangerous in the wrong hands and can really get your attention if you are not on your game. Pushing out over 1,500 horsepower, 400km/h over 400 metres in six seconds is certainty not for the faint hearted.
“The bike carries the front wheel the length of the track, burning 20 litres of nitro through a supercharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder bomb. It does almost 100mph [160km/h] in one second from the moment I see a green light and twist the grip to launch. After that it’s a football field per second in the second half of the track.
“Like I said earlier, riding these missiles is not for the faint hearted. When I talk to fans at the track or people in the business world, they shake their heads and believe me to be bloody crazy. I’ve had my fair share of accidents including being electrocuted and blown off the bike.”
Into the zone
Chris’s goal right now is to try and rewrite his own records and ultimately become the first rider in the southern hemisphere to break into the five-second zone, something that has not been achieved on Australian soil – yet!
“We are well ahead of the pack, however a number of other four-cylinder nitro bikes have the potential to run equally fast, but that only pushes me to go quicker and faster,” he says. “I love nothing more than a challenge.
“The weather and track also plays a huge role in running fast numbers. With the right conditions I am confident we will crack into the five-second barrier.
“After that my plan is to head over to the USA to race against some of the best and fastest riders in the world. The bar is currently at 5.61 seconds set by my good friend Larry ‘Spiderman’ McBride.
“In the meantime we will keep chasing championships in Australia and focus on the job at hand,” Chris says.
“I am very fortunate my wife lets me do what I do and backs me all the way. Without my crew and excellent support through truck repairers John Bell, Big Rigs Australia and my fantastic sponsors, we simply wouldn’t be able to achieve what we have.”
Chris explains that the team at John Bell Transport Repairs in Rocklea, Brisbane has serviced and maintained his trucks since 2008.
“John has been a rock with expertise ensuring the truck gets us to and from the racetrack on time without any grief.”
In the meantime, if you are on the road and driving behind a huge mural of the ‘Nitro Voodoo’, you’re following Chris’s transport truck. Give him a wave as he’s always up for a chat – whether its drag racing, motorbikes or trucks!
Top: Chris Matheson loves getting behind the wheel of his 2013 Kenworth T909 which he calls ‘The Recalcitrant’Above L to R: The mural at the rear of Chris Matheson’s trailer can’t be missed; The Kenworth’s unique ‘Nitro Voodoo’ bonnet ornament is a work in progress. Chris is planning to place lights in the eyes and have smoke coming from the mask breathers
Top: Inside the trailer’s ‘chill room’. Everything you need in a mobile officeAbove: There’s ample storage space within the custom trailerBelow L to R: Mixing with the fans at Sydney Dragway; Preparing for the season finale Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway in June. Photo by Chris Matheson RacingOpposite: The highly customised Freighter trailer, Chris’s home away from home